Believe the hype — the Majah Hype

He started as a social media sensation, winning fans across the Caribbean diaspora. Now NYC-based funnyman Majah Hype is taking his web-based comedy to the next stage. As Melissa Noel discovers, behind the humour is a serious commitment to Caribbean unity

Majah Hype. Photo courtesy Hype Media/Creative Inks PhotographyMajah Hype in character as Grandpa James, Sister Sandrine, and Di Rass. Photography courtesy Hype Media/Creative Inks PhotographyPhotography courtesy Hype Media/Creative Inks PhotographyMajah Hype takes his act live. Photo courtesy Hype Media/Creative Inks Photography

Backstage at Baruch College, all comedian Majah Hype could think was “this is only the beginning.” It was a Friday night in New York City, and close to a thousand people had come out to see some of the biggest names in soca music, including Bunji Garlin, Fay Ann Lyons, and Lyrikal. And for the first time ever, that audience would experience Majah Hype’s comedy live.

Behind the curtain, before his name was announced, the comedian thought back to the phone call that brought him to this moment. The college’s Caribbean Students Association asked him to host their annual cultural show. Majah Hype laughed to himself, because although he had never done standup comedy before, when his manager got the call and asked him, “Do you do standup?” his response was, “Well, I do now.”

The rumble of cheers from the massive crowd grew, and Majah Hype was excited, but also recalls that “it was nerve-racking, you know. I kind of had the butterflies and all that, wondering how they would take to what I had to say.”

Before his mind could wander much further, someone at the front of the crowd yelled a question. “Are we going to hear a ‘Dat does piss me off’ segment?” “Yeah, wey Grandpa James dey,” shouted another, referring to one of Majah’s most notable characters. That night, he would perform twenty-minute freestyle comedy segments over four hours between the musical acts. “It was an experience that taught me to always be ready for the unexpected.”

After that show, the Brooklyn-based comedian got invitations to headline live standups shows in Canada, Britain, Guyana, Trinidad, and the US Virgin Islands, just to name a few. But it was only a preview of what this multi-talented funnyman brings to the world of Caribbean entertainment.

 

“Growing up, my mother always told me that I belonged on someone’s stage,” Majah says. “I mean, all my family recognised I had this gift, and that I should take it seriously — because I didn’t just try to be funny, it was a natural thing.”

Majah Hype — all he’s revealed of his real identity is his first name, Nigel — started performing at the age of eight, when his grandfather taught him how to play at least seven instruments, including alto saxophone, trombone, and drums. Seeing his grandfather’s passion for entertaining is what created Majah’s strong ambitions for the industry and will to succeed. “He is responsible for making me the man I am today,” he says.

At the of age fifteen, his love for music brought him to deejaying. Over the years, he played with multiple New York City sound systems, including the iconic Massive B. This man of many talents also writes, sings, and produces music, and has worked with reggae and soca artists like Gyptian, Tarrus Riley, and Lyrikal. But what he always wanted to do is comedy.

So in 2013, when he was laid off from his full-time job as a certified electrician for New York City’s transit authority, Majah Hype took it as a sign: this was his opportunity to go after his goal of becoming a professional comedian. “I took a leap of faith, and I knew it was time to take what I really wanted to do seriously. I took my comedy seriously.”

A small home studio in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, is where it all started. With an iPhone in hand, topics in mind, and the ability to effortlessly capture the accents and mannerisms typical of various Caribbean nationalities, Majah Hype started recording a series of short sketches inspired by the people and situations he came across daily in Brooklyn, no practice needed. “None of my skits are planned out. Nothing is written or anything,” he says.

These daily sketches, released online, were simple yet hilarious depictions of Caribbean as well as African and American parents, grandparents, and friends, plus regular segments and recurring characters. Majah credits his musical background and observant nature for the ease with which he pulls off his repertoire of accents and personalities. “I’m like a tape recorder,” he explains. “I hear something and I just say it back you.”

His seamless accents, comedic timing, and true-to-life material quickly made Majah Hype a a Caribbean and Caribbean diaspora social media sensation. “My platforms are a melting pot for the Caribbean,” he says. “I think there’s strength in numbers. Everyone can unify and we all laugh and joke as one.”

Still, it almost didn’t happen. Shortly after being laid off, the comedian was offered his old job back. He briefly contemplated a return to life as a transit authority electrician, but then Majah read a few posts from his fans. “All of the comments were, like, he ran out of gas, he has no more jokes, you see I told you — and I was like, really?

“I’m a very competitive person,” Majah says. “You have to wake up real early in the morning to beat me, you know what I’m saying? So when I saw that, I’m the type of person that likes to prove people wrong. I just went even harder.”

That’s when Majah Hype introduced the world to now-well-known characters like Di Rass, a no-nonsense, foul-mouthed Rasta from Jamaica; Grandpa James, a bearded and cranky elder from south Trinidad; and Sister Sandrine, a tell-it-like-it-is Jamaican woman who dishes out tough love advice in the comfort of her nightgown. “I wanted to really separate myself from [other comedians] and raise the bar higher,” he says. “What I want is when people see my videos, they don’t just see the same face doing two different accents — I want them to see a totally different image.”

Characters like Grandpa James and Sister Sandrine, the comedian explains, represent the influence of elders in the community, as well as the kind of tough love that Caribbean grandparents often give. “They speak they mind. They tell you what they want to tell you. They don’t care how you feel ’bout it. How you take it. I’m telling you the truth. ‘That jacket don’t look good.’ That’s it. They don’t care . . . That’s just what they do,” he says.

 

Majah’s characters also include Jean from Haiti, Peter from Grenada, and Colin from Guyana, among others. “For me, it was a way to represent every island or country in their own special way, but still have us all unified,” he says, smiling. His dedication to not just entertaining but connecting the Caribbean through comedy is how he garnered his now more than half a million followers on social media — including 366,000 and counting on the photo and video sharing site Instagram, where he first started posting those hilarious improvisation sketches.

He says he uses this platform to share Caribbean culture with the world. But what Caribbean country does Majah Hype himself represent? Before I can even ask the full question, he’s laughing and shaking his head. He knows it’s coming. “I was born on a cruise ship in international Caribbean waters,” he says, this time in what sounds like a fusion Jamaican and Trinidadian accent. He deliberately doesn’t reveal where in the Caribbean he is from. “I don’t disclose that, for the simple fact that my main focus and my main goal is to unify everyone. I’m doing it for the Caribbean, instead of just one nation.”

 

No matter where in the Caribbean Majah is actually from, he’s showing the world that not only is the hype for real, he’s just getting started. The multitalented entertainer is currently working on a television show, and his first film, Foreign Minds Think Alike, is scheduled for release in March 2016. He says it’s a comedy that will give audiences the backstories of some of his most notable characters, and how they met. “Hopefully the world is ready for it — ready to laugh and cry.”

Majah will star alongside the likes of Bunji Garlin, Damian Marley, Gyptian, and other prominent Caribbean entertainers. “It’s sort of a dream come true to go from watching these people perform and watching these people on TV to now working with them and filming and just directing things that they want to be a part of.”

He personally funded the project, because he feels the breadth of Caribbean culture isn’t well represented in mainstream media. “I want to show a different side of us. We have comedy, drama, romance, stuff like that. I want to be able to bring that to the table, instead of people seeing the stereotypical weed seller or gangster.”

As for the daily comedy sketches that made him famous, Majah plans to expand them along with the repertoire of Caribbean accents he’s known for. “I am going to be adding accents you haven’t heard from me yet, like St Vincent, St Lucia. I mean, I have it,” he says, “but I’m sort of a perfectionist. I don’t want to put it out there and have people say that doesn’t really sound like us.”